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Lee Wallender

Caulking Baseboards Doesn't Work. So What's the Solution?

By January 25, 2010

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I always see advice about caulking baseboards, and I wonder how other people get this to work.

When we talk about baseboard caulk, we're talking about applying painter's caulk to the upper ridge of the baseboard, where the baseboard meets the wall.  Or should we say:  where the baseboard is supposed to meet the wall...

Why People Caulk Baseboards

Yet often, baseboards do not meet the wall.  Even in newer walls, you'll find gentle curves which form gaps along the tops of the baseboards.

In extreme cases, these gaps are so big that they allow air infiltration and can seriously impact your energy bills.  In minor cases, these gaps are simply unattractive.  I think that when we are talking about energy loss, you don't have many choices but to apply caulking.

Why Caulking Baseboards Doesn't Work

I find that even if the caulking is expertly applied and nicely painted, over time cracks will form because the baseboard slightly pulls away from the wall.  In some cases, it's because the baseboard shrinks.  If you're dealing with non-wood baseboards, shrinkage isn't a problem.

But it seems like minor cracks will still form, especially on a wall that has rattles and bumps from a door opening and closing.

Solution?

Thin baseboards can hug the wall tighter, eliminating those gaps.  Even tall, thick baseboards (5 1/4" or taller) can be made to conform to the wall a bit better when nailed down correctly.  Ignoring small gaps is another solution:  gaps that seem so patently obvious at the time of installation tend to fade from view after awhile.  Another solution is to stack your baseboards the old-fashioned way, with a separate, thinner piece on top that can easily hug the wall.

Anyone with ideas is welcome to add to the Comments section.

Image Copyright Lowe's


Comments

January 26, 2010 at 2:28 am
(1) EverydayFaucets says:

I have restored homes up to 5500 sq ft and have never had a problem caulking baseboards. Here’s what you should do…
1- make sure that the baseboard [where it meets the wall] does not have built up paint. If it does – take a scraper and remove the build up.
2- prime the wall and the baseboard where they meet each other with a primer. I prefer an oil primer because it will ensure your new paint sticks.
3- caulk with White Lightining Caulk [Lowes or Depot] I use my index finger to smooth it out and I keep my finger clean at all times with a paper towel. Some people prefer to use their finger and then come back with a lightly damp sponge.
4- paint when dry
5- enjoy the new look

January 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm
(2) homerenovations says:

Great tips. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

March 16, 2011 at 3:13 pm
(3) Steve says:

I install between 100,000-150,000 feet of baseboard moldings a year in nyc. All the caulk sold on the market doesn’t work long term. I’ve used all of them extensivley. Some of the better brands last about a year without cracking.

The notion that you can caulk your baseboards and never have to be concerned with cracks is false. You need to assume you will have to re-caulk and repaint every year.

I make it a point to not warranty caulking in my molding installation contracts. That caulk is superior to most other commercial filling products against cracking is true, that it’s a long term solution is , once again, false.

If cracking does drive you batty use a 3 piece base to better hug the wall with a cap and always use a shoe molding to follow the floor.

Many contemporary designers forego this wisdom in their renovation designs and though they do create very attractive looks with such , as far no cracks longterm , anything but 3 piece base is not practical .

November 22, 2012 at 10:45 am
(4) arn says:

Use one of the better caulks designed for this problem. They can have 25% to 50% joint flexibility. They can be siliconized, polymer, or urethane ingredients. Paintable. Interior/exterior. Often water cleanup.

Make sure it meets at least ASTM C-920 Class 25 (25% movement).

Current examples I’ve come across, on the market at Nov 2012 are:

Elastometric caulks like Dynaflex 230 Premium Elastometric Latex caulk, Dap 3.0 for crown, baseboards, etc, Moorlastic 464 Crown and Trim.

July 9, 2013 at 9:01 pm
(5) Terence says:

I know most will cringe when I say this, but I attached all of the baseboard moulding in my house with nails and construction adhesive. I did this close to ten years ago. I did my entire house–almost 2000 square feet, and there’s not a single crack to be seen. I plan on living in this house for many years…sure, the next owner, should they choose to remove it, will have to use a crowbar to pry it off…

August 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm
(6) Brandi says:

What about when I’ve had to remove the old caulk first, taking a certain amount of drywall with me, no matter how carefully I cut? I’m gonna have to spackle the drywall where it tore away, regardless, and that will definitely crack! So… I am resigned to caulking, but I don’t know whether to caulk first and then spackle, or vice versa??

February 28, 2014 at 1:12 am
(7) Tabetha says:

I’m nobody special when it comes to home renovations, but my personal experience with my house has been this: We put in reclaimed heart pine floors in our house made out of boards of various lengths 3/4 inches thick and 5 inches wide. When it came time to do baseboards I said, “Well, aren’t we going to use the same boards so it will all match?” And that’s what we did. We had to cut the tongue and groove off of the boards, but after that, we just nailed them to the walls. Because they are various lengths, I think they work well – there aren’t 16 foot sections spanning and entire wall, bows and all. The other thing that we did was to use caulk and spray foam underneath the trim (this was because we were worried about roaches sneaking around while the trim was left undone), and so I suppose that could help with issues of energy loss.

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